Research Team: Kenichi Soga (lead), Louise Comfort, Bingyu Zhao, Paola Lorusso, and Sena Soysal
UC Campus(es): UC Berkeley
Problem Statement: California is facing a continuing and life-threatening crisis of wildfires. Governor Newsom’s Strike Force Report (2019) identifies building greater resilience for communities exposed to wildfire risk as a key priority for the state. When an evacuation is ordered, affected families and individuals leave for safer towns nearby. Despite carefully developed residential evacuation plans already in place at a local level across California, there is still a lack of efficient communications and coordination between neighboring towns at a regional scale to receive evacuees for effective evacuation. The difficulty of communications in complex wildfire evacuation scenarios is further compounded by the dysfunction of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) systems, such as failure of the cell towers. For example, following the 2018 Camp Fire in Butte County many observers, including news media, blamed the limited capacity of the highways linking Paradise (evacuated area) with the Cities of Chico or Oroville (safer areas) as the cause of traffic gridlock during the evacuation. However, field interviews with practicing managers revealed that the destination areas were not prepared for the sudden inflow of evacuation traffic and were unable to respond with optimal traffic measures (e.g., guidance, signaling, demand control) to smooth the entrance of the evacuees.
Project Description: This project aims to demonstrate the benefits of regional and improved coordination between evacuation towns and destination towns based on traffic simulations and data collected in previous field research. Researchers developed scenarios to represent a range of possible evacuation and coordination situations. Variations in scenarios address the available evacuation time against the speed of wildfire advancement, the implementation of counterflow, and the coordinated evacuation plan. The scenarios include alternative communication methods among key organizations and residents of both evacuation and destination towns. Researchers tested the scenarios in the context of the Town of Bolinas, a community with similar constraints in wildfire evacuation as experienced in the Camp Fire.